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Tips for being a better searcher June 28, 2007

Posted by Jeff in Search.
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Have you ever noticed that some people seem to be able to find anything on the web? Usually the information is out there, but it might take a specific site or a specific type of search query to find what you’re looking for. Here are a few tricks I use for finding things online:

General Searching

  • Use more than one search engine. I find that Google has nearly every answer I’m looking for, so it is my primary search engine, however sometimes I’ll find additional results for the same search query on Yahoo, MSN, or (very rarely) Ask.
  • Remember that querying a search engine is different than asking another person a question. Search engines are trying to find pages that have all of your query words in them and they can’t understand much deeper meaning in your query like a human can. So, instead of searching for name of fast food restaurant with red roof in logo, try searching on other words that are likely to be on the same page like dominos papa johns pizza inn little caesars. You’ll find that the latter query is much more likely to produce a page that contains the name “Pizza Hut”.
  • Remember that too many words in your query can prevent certain pages from showing up in the results. Be especially careful when searching using words that have commonly used synonyms, because some pages might use your word while others use the synonym. If possible, leave that word out of your query, so that you get the maximum number of results. So, instead of searching for raffi children’s music, consider that “children’s” might be replaced by the word “kids” on a lot of pages, and simply search for raffi music. It is not always possible to leave out a word and still retain the meaning of your search query, but when you can do it, it can help you find things faster.
    • If you are of the nerd persuasion, some search engines support a query syntax that allows you to specify more than one synonym for the same query. On Google, for example, the two queries above could be represented with a single query for raffi (children’s OR kids) music.
  • If you know you’re looking for encyclopedia-type content, add site:en.wikipedia.org to your query and you’ll get results only from the English Wikipedia.
  • If you want to find out whether it is correct to say “acquire” or “aquire”, do a search on each and see which one comes up with more results.

Specific types of searches

  • For definitions, parts of speech, etymologies, etc., use dictionary.com or search for define plus the word you are seeking on Google.
  • For synonyms and antonyms, use thesaurus.com
  • For finding people:
    • Use any site that you have a “network” of friends on, including LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace, Classmates.com, and the like
    • If you don’t have a network, try typing the person’s full name and city into Google (i.e. jeff watts austin)
    • Try searching for the person’s name plus site:linkedin.com
    • Try searching for any combination of the person’s first name, last name, company, city, state, nickname, or any other piece of personally identifiable information.
    • Guess the person’s email address.  If the person works at Example.com, first do a search for example.com and see if you can find any person’s email address.  For example, you might find a page that lists “jdoe@example.com”.  If the person you are trying to reach is named Albert Einstein, you could reasonably guess that his email address would be “aeinstein@example.com”.

If you have trouble searching for something, tell me and I’ll see if I can suggest a way to find it.

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